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One of these fine days when Fidel Castro can no longer fog a mirror and
the President of the United States no longer has a brother who's
Governor of Florida and dependent on exiled Cuban votes, we'll be back
to visiting Cuba as before and updated versions of Cuban Love Song will
be made again.
Probably not with a transplanted opera singer like Lawrence Tibbett though. In Cuban Love Song he's Terry Burke, devil may care, upper middle class average Joe who just has to get some wild oats sowed before settling down to married life with Karen Morley. He joins the Marines to do it and the ship he's stationed on, puts into Havana for liberty shortly before American entry into World War I.
He sure finds his wild oats in Lupe Velez, Havana peanut vendor, grows them and sells them. They get one wild liberty together before Tibbett has to go to war.
So the question is, who will Tibbett eventually settle down with? Remember this film is before the code so the answer isn't obvious. In fact those oats had some consequences.
Tibbett got good reviews for Cuban Love Song and a couple of hit songs came out of it. The title song sold a few records and the Peanut Vendor Song started a rhumba craze during the Depression.
As sidekicks to Tibbett, Ernest Torrance and Jimmy Durante provide the same comic relief as Laurel and Hardy did for him in his debut in The Rogue Song.
Lawrence Tibbett had a magnificent baritone voice and opera lovers should not miss any chance to hear it.
A very interesting and quite fun little film featuring Lawrence Tibbett. Yes the story is creaky, the film is too short and some of the dialogue is pretty routine. But against all that in the film's favour we have nice production values, wonderful music full of zest and authentic flavour, a fiery Lupe Velez, a zany Jimmy Durante and Ernest Torrence who provide the amusing comedy nicely and a truly terrific turn from the master baritone himself Lawrence Tibbett both in presence and particularly in singing. The direction is also pretty good, The Cuban Love Song goes at a snappy pace while not slowing down too much in the slower interludes and the stars seem to be having fun. All in all, interesting and worth seeing for Tibbett. 7/10 Bethany Cox
Lawrence Tibbett had a varied and distinguished career at the Met. In
"Metropolitan," he got to sing operatic arias. The music here is
schmaltz, though he delivers it with great beauty.
He strides around the sound stage as if on a theatrical stage -- but that's not a problem. The movie itself is fairly silly.
Jimmy Durante is somewhat restrained as his military buddy. And, lucky guy! He has romances with two lovely ladies. Karen Morley is the kind woman back home. And that famous Cuban Lupe Velez is the peanut-seller he meets while in the service.
Velez is allowed little of the fieriness and tantrums that marked her "Mexican Spitfire" series and most other movies I've seen her in. She appealing.
I won't give anything away. (It's far from a work of art or a suspenseful movie, anyway.) However, the plot does seem a Hollywood riff on "Madame Butterfly."
The Cuban Love Song is an early talkie with soaring tunes and a touching performance by Lupe Velez, who struggles, mightily, however, to sing the Herbert Stothart music. Most of the vocal duties are carried by Tibbett, whose excellent voice makes up for somewhat wooden acting that was unfortunately typical of the era. As a plot, the film depends on the old Madame Butterfly story (also used in Miss Saigon) of a military man stationed in the developing world (in this case, Cuba) who falls in love with, then loses, a local girl. Viewed today, the story seems tainted with racism, and Velez does occasionally overdo the cuchi-cuchi stuff. But the scene where Tibbett is called away to fight in WWI, and the Velez character tries to put up a bold front, has true emotional impact. Incidentally, the score contains "The Peanut Song," sung in Spanish, later used as a rousing number in the Judy Garland version of "A Star is Born."
In the early talkie era, MGM had great faith in the movie star
potential of opera star Lawrence Tibbett, starring him in four films.
He could be dashing at times but also often looked like Oliver Hardy's
kid brother. THE CUBAN LOVE SONG was his final MGM film, ironically it
is probably his most successful effort as a film but his character is
so remarkably self-centered and oblivious to the pain he causes the
women in his life (the movie itself doesn't ponder this fact much
either) I suspect this well-made film actually made him unappealing to
the all important female audience of the day.
Tibbett stars as a Marine who has a long-suffering girlfriend back home (lovely Karen Morley) for whom he basically has only qualified affection, scarcely bothering to write her while he is away on duty, just a postcard now and then. Stationed in Cuba, he is bewitched by a beautiful local girl (Lupe Velez) but seems to be equally flippant in this second romance if more sexually aggressive toward her. Lupe is bewitched by the man in uniform and is ready to pack up and become his wife but then after a period of idyllic romance Tibbett is called to duty in the war, returning home to America with injuries and loving nursed by old love Morley. Can he get over his "true love", the girl back in Cuba?
Lupe Velez is a vision in this, and while she's given the MGM glamour treatment she's still wholly effective as the little peasant girl who gives her heart to someone who may not deserve it. I'm a Velez fan and this is one of her best film performances, yes we get to see her a bit in her famed spitfire mode but most of the time she is a tender if naive soul in a moving, well nuanced performance. Tibbett is very good too but the movies' "it's a man's world" mentality seems to avoid any criticism of an alleged "good guy" who romances one girl while engaged to another and later who willing abandons the latter in hopes of reuniting with the former. The movies' tragic ending (with a vaguely distasteful "happy" resolution) will surely jar Velez fans given her character ends up in a situation quite similar to the one Lupe found herself in in the early 1940's with even more tragic results. How sad this lovely actress didn't take a page out of her character's pre-code script.
Jimmy Durante and Ernest Torrance costar as Tibbett's rather overage Marine buddies in low-comedy characters. Karen Morley, at the beginning of her MGM career, is quite charming as the faithful American girl who gives her man frankly more than he deserves. Some of the Tibbett/Velez scenes are quite charmingly romantic though not among them is Talbott's extremely aggressive pawing in her bedroom as she tries to fight him off. This bittersweet romance is worth seeing however for Lupe Velez in one of her most effective and certainly most moving roles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is not a particularly enjoyable movie, and that is strange.
It tells the story of an American serviceman, Lawrence Tibbett, who gets shore leave in Cuba in 1914 and becomes involved with - I won't say falls in love with - a lively Cuban peanut seller. They spend some fun time together - and, as we learn later, conceive a child - before Tibbett is called back to the U.S. to serve in World War I.
Ten years later, by then a married man in the States, Tibbett hears a Cuban song and sets off for Cuba again, in search of the peanut vendor. He discovers that she has died, but also discovers the child he fathered with her. He takes the child back to the U.S. with him and his wife, in the closing scene, agrees to take him back with the boy.
In 1931, when this movie was made, this would have been a story about interracial sex - perhaps love. Tibbett's American wife, like Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, agrees to take the child of her husband with a woman of a different race. There is no chance for a marriage for the Cuban woman and the American man - he shies away when she proposes it - because of what was seen as the racial barrier. He has no problems having a good time with her, but marriage is another issue.
Still, he can't forget her. Whether that is just sexual desire, or whether there is also an element of love in there, the movie never makes clear.
As a result, Tibbett's character comes off as somewhat exploitative, and therefore unappealing, at least for modern viewers.
I guess this could have been a male fantasy back in 1931, but today that is hard to swallow.
I will say, though, that Tibbett's singing in his few numbers is very impressive. His recordings, while good, do not capture the sound of his rich voice the way this movie sound track did. He is also a very natural actor, unlike some other operatic singers who tried Hollywood in the 1930s.
This is not a good movie, but it is an interesting example of how pre-Code Hollywood treated certain racial issues.
A fabulous pre-code film with the incandescent and beautiful Lupe Velez. The film meanders a bit, but Jimmy Durante is wonderful in comic relief. A few lewd jokes help liven things up: When a baby cries incessantly, fellow marine Ernest Torrence suggests Jimmy Durante quiet the infant by nursing him. So Jimmy obliges by unbuttoning his blouse...and pulls out a pocket watch to distract the wailing youngster. Blooper Mention: Jimmy Durante is accidentally slipped a castor oil filled lemonade by the bartender. He drinks it all, despite wincing at the taste...but we never see what happens afterwards. Did he get violently ill? Wander Havana with brown-stained pants? Find the toilet in the nick of time? Guess the scene was left on the cutting room floor...
This film reminds me of the odd song "Perhaps Love" which inexplicably
paired John Denver with Placido Domingo the opera singer! Yes, "The
Cuban Love Song" features an on-screen pairing that just defies common
sense--with the classically trained opera singer, Lawrence Tibbett,
playing opposite his on-screen pal, Jimmy Durante!! And, to make things
even more bizarre, the love interest was the Mexican bombshell, Lupe
Valez!! Talk about a strange melange of actors!
The film casts Tibbett as a singing Marine, Terry. While I am sure Tibbett was a lovely person in real life, he sure didn't look like a Marine...more like a society boy with his cute little mustache and prep school manners. I honestly think Hollywood just didn't know what to do with the guy...all they knew was that he had a great voice. Heck, in another film they paired him with Laurel & Hardy, though the film, "The Rogue Song", has been lost. These odd pairings might help explain why Tibbett only appeared in six films and soon returned to the opera stage...only returning for a few television appearances later in life.
As for the film, it's mostly an excuse to hear Tibbett as well as Valez sing...and their voices don't exactly complement each other. Tibbet's voice, even with the primitive sound used in this film, is incredible...and Valez's lacks the power and style of his. They are mismatched when it comes to singing...and their falling in love is equally strange and mismatched. Worth seeing mostly because of its curiosity value. Fortunately, if you need to see it, the print on YouTube is amazingly crisp. Too bad there are no subtitles, however, as sometimes it would have helped in understanding Valez.
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